Butterfly Habitat Course and Qs

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  • #44157


    I have commenced this course, and already have loads more knowledge about butterflies, food, habitat, etc…But there’s one thing Im not clear on – My monarch castle has housed many butterflies and chrysalis over the last few weeks.
    Mostly the emerging butterflies have been perfect and have been released to Lacebarks on our property in Pongaroa on the east coast of the north Island . However some have hatched with normal sized bodies but under developed wings which don’t expand. Sadly these of course wont fly.
    What could cause this – quality of food perhaps? I also still have eggs on my swan plants and many very small cats… There appears to be enough leaves o the swan plants for them to feed on but with the temperatures dropping Im wondering if either the eggs or Cats will go through their life cycle?

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  • #44159


    Hello Desiderata

    Here’s my thoughts for what they’re worth.

    Nature is fascinating. (I believe I’ve posted about this before but here I go again.) Nature is all about balance… and it often doesn’t fit with our human thinking.

    There’s not meant to be lots of the things we love, and one of the things we don’t like (ants, flies, fleas, cockroaches, rats, wasps to name a few.) It’s all about balance. And the natural ecosystem relies on predators, parasites, pathogens etc to keep things in balance: flora and fauna, and weather and air and soil etc too.

    With the swan plant (for example) when we plant hundreds we’re swinging the balance. Pressure is put on the soil, and it’s changed. Aphids think it’s paradise, so all of the swan plants are affected – it’s rather like the flu epidemic 100 years ago on a much smaller, localised scale. But that brings the ladybirds to bring things back into balance.

    So getting back to your monarchs. Over the course of the summer diseases etc have had a chance to build up and these will get “knocked back” in the winter. With a caterpillar castle we’re creating an unnatural community where it would be easier for pathogens to spread. (Compare 100 people living in a rural area with – say – 100 people living in close proximity. Where would a common cold spread easiest?)

    We humans anticipate that every monarch egg will make it to become a beautiful butterfly, and we’re disappointed when they don’t. But in fact, with a monarch laying hundreds (possibly a thousand) eggs, it is only necessary for one or two to make it to become adults for the species to continue in balance. Some are meant to feed other predators and parasites (to keep them surviving) and pathogens too.

    So while deformities are completely natural there is more likelihood of them building up in an artificial community, such as a caterpillar castle. One “sick” caterpillar in a milkweed patch is less likely to contaminate others than if it’s in a caterpillar castle. You could remove everything inside the caterpillar castle and sterilise it, then replace the foliage that was there with fresh and return the caterpillars etc to it. Or, if this is too tricky, ensure the castle is sterilised well at the end of the season.

    And yes, quality of food could be partly to blame too.

    Some of the eggs and small larvae on our plants might make it through their metamorphosis. A lot depends on day length and temperatures – when things are colder the process takes much longer, making them more vulnerable to sudden cold snaps, predators and parasites. But some may make it.

    Hope that helps. Will be interested in other people’s thoughts too.


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